What Does it Mean to Glorify God?

The pervasiveness of glory in the Bible is incongruously matched by the evasiveness of its meaning to many Christians. Without a proper understanding of God’s glory, it is bound to degenerate into a cliché. Glory, glorification, and glorify are three related terms that need defining. Here are my working definitions:

Glory is the expression of God in splendor. God intrinsically is a Triune God of glory—the Father of glory (Eph. 1:17), the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8), and the Spirit of glory (1 Pet. 4:14).

Glorification is the end result and goal of God’s organic salvation, which is proceeding from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18).

To glorify God is either to render God glorious praise or to express God in word, deed, or person thus eliciting praise to God.

Acknowledging God

The last definition is what I want to concentrate on. ‘Giving God glory’ has sort of become a catch-all phrase for giving God credit for abilities or blessings. It’s pretty standard that successful Christian athletes will give God the glory for their performance. I’m glad they do. However, a vague or shallow notion of what glorifying God is all about, can lead to its devaluation. To glorify God is not to give Him a casual, perfunctory nod in an interview. It is the most significant and privileged event we can participate in. It is what we were created for.

Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by My name, whom I have created, formed, and even made for My glory.

–Isaiah 43:6-7

Worshipping God

A higher concept of glorifying God is related to worship. Again however, for God to be glorified doesn’t merely mean that He is objectively worshipped with equal parts reverence, fear, and gratitude. That may be the extent of meaning when angelic beings give glory to God, but there is a qualitative difference in the praise of saints and the praise of angels. All praise is not created equal. This is because praise is born out of our concrete experiences of God. In fact, if praise is to be meaningful, there must be a correspondence between the content of the praise and the experience or realization of the person praising. Different experiences can register different magnitudes of praise, but the necessary element that precludes empty praise is experience.

All the terms of doxology crystallize out of the experience of salvation.[1]

–Jürgen Moltmann

This is at least partially indicated in Revelation 4:9-11. The worship of the four living creatures (who are representative of all creatures, but in Ezek. 1 are especially associated with man) and the twenty-four angelic elders (angels because they differentiate themselves from the saints in Rev. 5:9-10) differs by one word—thanks/power. The creatures give God “glory and honor and THANKS” but the angels give God “glory and honor and POWER.” The creatures (representing men) are beneficiaries of Christ’s redemption and thus return thanks to God. The angels are beneficiaries of God’s authority and thus ascribe power to God.

What’s important to note here, is that the creatures and the angels express their praise differently because they have different experiences. While all created beings experience fundamentally the same God, we experience Him in different ways. Thus when we express our praise, something fitting and telling emerges. We can know a man by his praise. Doxology, then, is not disinterested declaration; it involves us at our core. It’s not thinking up great sounding things to say about God. There should be something spontaneously flowing out of our God-constituted being to Him as praise (think John 4:14, 24). In this way, praise completes a profound cycle. Something of God flows to us and we, with it, flow back to God in praise (I’m anticipating the deeper significance of the last section here).

In Revelation chapters 4-5, the praise that began with 4 and then grew to 24, quickly escalates to universal proportions—”myriads of myriads” of angels and even “every creature”. The two common elements in this exuberance of worship are glory and honor. (Incidentally, ‘glory and honor’ are what Christ is crowned with in His post-paschal exaltation. Heb. 2:9). Thus, even in praise there is unity and diversity.

Here is a breakdown of the content of their praise:Untitled-1

Participating in God

However, there is another qualitative distinction in the praise of the living creatures generally and the saints particularly. This distinction, which is also the characteristic distinction between the Old Testament saints and the New Testament saints, goes beyond appreciation to participation.

In the [Old Testament] the stress lies on seeing the divine dóxa (Lev. 9:6; Isa. 6:1; 35:2)… in the [New Testament], however, the emphasis shifts to participation.[2]

Surely the angels along with every other created being will appreciate the glory of God because they will be part of the universal audience admiring God’s glory. But, the believers in Christ not only appreciate God’s glory, they are being led INTO that glory (Heb. 2:10). The astounding fact is that through the economy of God’s salvation, man has become the venue for God’s expression—in the church and in Christ Jesus (Eph. 3:21).

1. Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and The Kingdom, p. 153
2. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (ed.), Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Abridged in One Volume, p. 180

13 thoughts on “What Does it Mean to Glorify God?

  1. While I was reading through Isaiah 66 this morning I slowed down to muse on verse 5 – Let Jehovah be glorified so that we may see your joy. You’re right! This is why we were made. This is the reason for our existence. We are always participating in something. We will always be expressing something. Yet our true joy only comes from glorifying, participating in, and expressing the Triune God of glory!


    • Isaiah is a good place to look for this because it mirrors the progression of the Bible as a whole. So it’s not surprising to find in Isaiah 66 foreshadowing or typology of Revelation 21-22.


    • From 2 Corinthians 1: 10-11
      God rescued us from a terrible death, and he will rescue us. We have set our hope on him that he will rescue us again, since you are helping with your prayer for us. Then many people can thank God on our behalf for the gift that was given to us through the prayers of many people.

      God’s intercession in the lives of others are our answered prayers for them. Our thanks and glorification of God provides as you say, our exclusive “participation in God and His activities.” It is then a great gift to have the honor to pray for others.


  2. Great post. Giving God the glory is definitely a Christian buzzphrase these days, so it’s nice to see a clear definition of what that really means.


    • Thanks Leon. I agree. Glory is a term that can mean different things to different people. Definitions are in order if we want to understand each other. Most people would agree that glory is what God is going to get, but HOW He gets it and WHAT it ultimately means are not so clear.


  3. Amen, brother. Giving God glory is “the most significant and privileged event we can participate in. It is what we were created for”. How can we realize and enjoy this participation? It is only through “the Spirit with our spirit” (Romans 8:16).


    • The Spirit with our spirit is definitely the motor of glorification, but both our soul and body eventually participate in this glory too. Glory is eventually an all encompassing experience.1 Cor 10:31 at least indicates this- “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” God will save us to such an extent that every action of our spirit, soul, and body will glorify Him.


  4. Wonderful post that touches a deeper root of what the Bible calls God’s glory. The first mention of the word glory in the Bible is in Genesis 45:13 in the context of Joseph revealing himself to his brothers: ” And you must tell my father of all my glory in Egypt and of all that you have seen…” Joseph is a type of Christ as the overcoming God-man who was exalted to the highest place in order to dispense the unlimited riches to his brothers. We need to see that only Christ glorifies God. When the Lord was on the mount of transfiguration, the divine glory, the expression of God, was shining out of His human vessel (Matt. 17:2, Mark 9:3). In Mark 9:1 the Lord called this “the kingdom of God having come in power.” The kingdom of God clearly includes the saints and their participation in God’s economy. Christians must see that the only real way to glorify God is through our living union with Christ Himself. Your post helps to expose the shallow notion that to glorify God is simply to give Him credit when good things happen. Indeed, Psalm 19 tells us the heavens declare the glory of God, but in the New Testament economy, Galatians 6:15 says “… a new creation is what matters.”


    • Thanks for the extended comment. Your last line brings up a very valid question: if the created universe already declares the glory of God, what can we add to this declaration? Or why are we also created for God’s glory? I think the answer lies in the qualitative distinction between what the universe can render to God (or any other created being) compared to what man can render to God as glory. While creation may declare the fact that a vast, powerful, creative God exists, only man can glorify the Triune God.


      • I was touched recently to realize that according to John 1:3, not one thing came into being apart from Him. Not only so, Colossians 1:16 tells us that all things (including the things in Psalm 19) were created in Christ, through Christ, and unto Christ. He is not only the objective Creator, but also the means of creation. As the Son of God, He is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). The old creation glorifies God precisely because it was created in Christ, and thus bears the divine characteristics. This explains why Romans 1:20 says no man is without excuse. God’s purpose in creating all things was to glorify and manifest Christ, especially in man, who was uniquely created in God’s own image. Therefore, man can only glorify God to the extent that he lives Christ (Phil 1:21) and participates in the building up of the one Body of Christ (Eph 4:1-16).


        • Great points! I think the stained glass window analogy is helpful here. When light passes through colored glass, the light picks up the characteristics of the glass (its color). So white light passing through red glass will appear red. Since creation passed through Christ it picked up some of His characteristics. I think this is what Romans 1:20 is saying. We can know certain things about the Creator because creation doesn’t just reflect His style (like recognizing a Picasso) but has intrinsically picked up His characteristics, such as order, purpose, beauty, life, inexhaustibleness, etc.

          Man has a qualitative advantage in expressing God because man has a spirit and was created in God’s image. Thus humans can contain God as life and not just reflect certain characteristics of God, but live out the person of God through His divine dispensing. The image of God that man bears is the image of the Triune God (Us & Our in Gen 1:26). Thus the creation can manifest that a God exists, but man one-ups that by manifesting that a Triune God exists. We manifest this through our salvation experiences that show forth God’s triune identity. We become one Spirit with Him in an organic union. We become the many brothers to firstborn Son of God. We become genuine children begotten by the divine Father. Creation cannot manifest this aspect of our God.


  5. Thanks for making the distinction between “giving God the glory” (perhaps “thanks” is a better word) for things/abilities/events in the old creation versus expressing God out of our experience of Him in the new creation.


    • Isn’t it a compelling distinction! Makes me want to experience God everyday of my life to be a part of this grand display of who and what God is. The universe hasn’t seen anything yet! The universe is groaning for the revelation of the sons of God- our glorification.


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